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A Year in a Yurt: Lessons on the Process of Becoming

For nearly a year beginning at the start of the Covid pandemic I lived in a yurt tucked within a canyon in rural Washington. It lay hidden off Canyon Road, a 15 minute drive from the nearest town of Lyle: population 250.

When I first moved to Washington at the beginning of 2020 I lived 30 minutes away from the yurt in another small town off the Columbia River. I moved into a large home with a shamanic healer (which was its own interesting experience), but 2 months later Covid shut down the brewery I’d been working at and I needed to find a more affordable place to live. I decided to hop on Craigslist and stumbled upon the yurt advertised as “peaceful rustic cabin on shared land.”

The woman who owned the yurt also owned the 13 acres it sat upon, along with a tiny house 100 yards away, a huckleberry colored home where she lived, a stone circle, a goat pen, an area for the chickens and goats, and an outhouse. Her name was Jerri, and she called her land Ripple Wood.

Jerri was a rather majestic woman who seemed to be directly plugged into the flow of the universe. She wore long, flowing shawls like you might see Stevie Nicks wearing, and she had the most childlike smile of anyone I’ve met. Every time she giggled (and that was often) she seemed to morph into a little girl again. She loved medieval everything and even offered her property at one point to a group of vikings who met periodically over the span of a decade. Jerri shared stories about their escapades, like the time they all danced naked around the stone circle. Her Subaru license plates were framed with text that read “Dance on a volcano,” which seemed to sum up her spirit quite nicely.

She owned the property for 20 years after moving an hour east from Portland. She lived in an RV on the lot without plumbing or electricity until she was able to have her house built. She once told me that in those early days she felt so safe on her land that she’d sometimes wander about the property at night alone. One night a large bird swooped right above her head, the movement of its wings sending vibrations through the air and around her body. Early on she owned camels and the neighbors gawked, asking each other what a girl from the city was doing out here, especially on her own.

In the years before I met Jerri I’d dream of women like her–older, wise women who seemed to know the way. I wanted to rest in the comfort of what they knew that I couldn’t yet fully understand. Lying in bed at night I’d often imagine myself visiting the home in the woods of an older woman who offered the comfort of her wise presence. I later realized that I’d even written the description of a similar character as Jerri in an outline for a book I pieced together while living in my van in Alaska.

It’s as if I knew I needed to meet her and live on her land before it ever came to be. That’s why it wasn’t surprising to later learn that I was the first and only person to respond to the Craigslist ad, or why I felt a wave of peace wash over me when I first rolled up to Ripple Wood in my chevy van.

The yurt quickly became a womb for me. Not only did its circular shape make me feel like I was being held in its safe embrace, but I felt invited to go inward through writing, dance, yoga, and meditation. The yurt was a safe and quiet space for me to open the doors of my heart and lay out everything within to understand and organize it all. My van had provided a similar kind of cocoon safety. That’s why I prefer small spaces–they close off the world around you and invite you on an inward journey.

But don’t get me wrong–the inward journey isn’t always inviting. Sometimes it’s painful and scary and can resemble a black hole that contains what seems like endless darkness and information the mind can’t quite understand. Unwrapping your heart before you isn’t entirely magical. Our hearts are imprinted with every painful memory and every fear we’ve collected in our lives. But that’s precisely why we must investigate and understand what’s within, so that we can come to integrate them into our lives in a way where they contribute to our wholeness rather than keep us fragmented in a fear driven life.

While the van was more of a blissful heart-opening experience, the yurt was more challenging. I went through a process of sifting through some of the less favorable aspects of myself and being confronted by my own fears and internal belief systems, like my fear of being insufficient in the face of my dreams or my resistance to being loved and seen.

When I wasn’t introspecting, I spent time working remotely, walking the logging road just outside the property, hauling and filling two large water jugs for dishes (the yurt was without plumbing), reading books, and gardening. The property was often quiet and serene. Sometimes while walking about I’d tune into the environment and look with curiosity and amazement at the things I saw, like the handful of trees with several different trunks that merged together at the base. At times I could feel the subtle pulse of everything around me.

Jerri and I would sometimes connect and exchange ideas about life, once over homemade tacos and other times at the stone circle. I’d often open up about a decision or idea I was struggling with, and each time she’d offer similar advice.

“When I’m feeling totally unsure of something, I walk around the property or sit in the stone circle. I completely silence my mind and when I feel quiet, I send a question out into the universe and wait for a response. Almost every time, if I’m able to silence my thoughts, a complete answer will rise to the surface.”

“How do you know it’s not coming from yourself?” I’d ask.

“Well it is coming from within, but not from my mind. It seems to arrive suddenly and completely, and every time the answer has been the right one.”

Following her advice, I spent time walking along the property or sitting in the stone circle, asking for guidance. (If there’s a constant question I wrestle with in my life it’s what should I do next?) Then I’d wait in anticipation, trying to quiet my thoughts and hesitation of what might surface. Eventually, when I’d lost patience and assumed I was somehow blocking the flow of communication with the universe, I’d return to the yurt and lose myself in something else or continue to get swept in my thoughts.

“I must not be doing it right,” I’d think. “I must not be able to get quiet enough, or maybe I’m simply not desperate enough.”

But then I’d thought back to a particularly challenging phase in my life before living in the yurt or the van when I fell asleep imagining women like Jerri offering comfort and some sort of nonverbal guidance. What I wanted then and now was clarity around the path forward. Looking back I see the guidance had always been there, it was just in a language my mind didn’t speak but my body seemed to understand.

On the other side of the questions, challenges, and consistent introspection I experienced at the yurt, I eventually decided to leave and return to Wyoming. It was a decision that harmonized with many others I’d made in my 20s; just another phase of the ebbs and flows of my comings and goings. The answer didn’t directly come to me during an evening walk on the property but it did eventually come, regardless of its path of arrival.

What I’ve come to learn is that whether the answers to my greatest questions come directly, indirectly, or never at all, it’s all part of the process. Maybe there are no right answers after all but just paths paved with lessons and experiences.

What all of us have in common, even if only in certain phases of life, is the desire to seek and find answers to our greatest unknowns. The process of seeking is also the process of receiving guidance. Wandering is an intentional act of pursuing what you do not know, and trusting that the wisdom is held in places you may not be able to logically understand or physically touch.

Jerri had demonstrated this so eloquently in her life and especially through the two-decade process of giving life to a vision she held within. In the way she spoke, the way she listened, the way she moved, and the way she laughed, it was unmistakable that she was directly plugged into the unseen but unquestionably existent source of life. And still, she had to build her vision on a foundation of faith.

There are moments when the source, universe, God, or whatever name you prefer speaks directly to us in a language we can intellectually understand, like Jerri sometimes experienced. But at times we must navigate our journeys with faith in what we can never know for sure in the mind.

Jerri taught me to go curiously, faithfully, and unapologetically in the direction of the current that pulls at you. If there is a vision in your heart that your body and soul ache to give life to in your days on earth, you will know. It is your purpose to understand every layer of this vision and cultivate it into existence, like one would nurture a seed to its full development.

Jerri’s vision actualized into a real place that held her and nourished her. What she nurtured eventually grew to nurture her, which then came to nurture me. I can’t help but think the same truth applies to anyone who feels a longing and honors it with their life: there is a profound and inseparable relationship of reciprocity between us and the visions we devote ourselves to. The dreams of our lives start as seeds that we must cultivate, and through the process they ultimately grow into gifts that sustain our lives and ripple into the lives of others.

Though I can’t fully understand it, I know a degree of transformation took place for me in the cocoon-like space of the yurt. Another woman’s vision became my sanctuary for a year, and when it was time for me to leave I knew because I could feel the pull of the current.

Cocoons are not places for us to stay, but rather temporary sanctuaries of transformation that we must eventually emerge from. We come and go; we learn and we grow. In the course of time, with faith and loyalty in the process of our unique unfolding, we become.

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